Mini Review

Hey, Old Friend

Man in Chair begins his West End 2012 reports with some long term favourites.

Les Miserables
Queens Theatre
2.30 Saturday 21 January 2012

What a difference an orchestration makes.

Man in Chair wanted to know what all the Ramin Karmiloo fuss was about and ended up seeing one of the strongest performances of Les Miz in memory.

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Karmiloo’s voice is his main claim to fame but he is also an intense actor plus his sexual magnetism shines through even buried under layers of grey hair and make up. His combination of rich baritone and soaring tenor is a thrill to hear, with his unfortunately delayed, self-titled first album now all the more anticipated.

Man in Chair more than half expected to watch Karmiloo in his scenes then daydream about Pret a Manger sandwiches for the rest but there was no such chance.

Maybe it’s the Karmiloo effect, with other cast members rising to meet his skill, or maybe it’s the attraction of working in Les Miz after the anniversary hoopla, but the cast were incredibly strong. Principal after principal sang and acted up a storm. Highlights included Alexia Khadime as a powerful, colour-blind cast Eponine and Cameron Blakely as Thenardier, landing loads of newly created physical humour. Hadley Fraser (Grantaire in the 25th anniversary concert) more than capably matched Karmiloo’s strength as Javert.

Gavroche’s death in the barricade sometimes brings sighs of relief from the crowd but not when played by Alex McMenamin. With a voice that would have been fine without a microphone, McMenamin commanded attention in all his scenes and acted the pants off many of the adults, strong as they were in this cast.

Swoonworthy Craig Mather as Marius, luminous Caroline Sheen as Fantine, smouldering Liam Tamne as Enjolras – tick, tick, tick.

Australian audiences, long deprived of a professional staging, are set to go nuts over this version (if the long mooted Australian anniversary season ever eventuates). Most exciting is the fuller orchestrations, which finally do away with the 80s synth sound in favour of actual strings and brass. The famous revolve still keeps the show turning, but slick tweaks to costumes and props neatly streamline the affair. And the wedding scene finally has a backdrop!

London audiences basically never stand but this performance of Les Miz earned a full standing ovation. See you at the 50th anniversary.

Apollo Victoria Theatre
7.30 Tuesday 24 January 2012

Wicked’s resident director must be all kinds of wonderful as the show, more than five years on, is in cracking shape.

The show looks superb in the majestic Apollo Victoria Theatre.

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I’d Do Anything finalist Rachel Tucker is an excellent Elphaba, singing the role with ease and acting brilliantly. Only let down by her stiffness in “Dancing Through Life”, Tucker is winning a legion of devoted fans as the queen of green.

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Gina Beck’s extraordinary operatic soprano as she floats in as Glinda suggests that this is why she was cast. Imagine the surprise that is she is a highly talented comic actress as well, landing all her gags and particularly hilarious physically during “Popular”.

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New to the cast is Matt Willis, with apparently some sort of pop background or other. Willis’ tattoo-covered arms made him look a particularly bad-ass Fiyero. Tall and sexy, and a more than decent actor and singer, Willis is a solid addition to the top trio.

Highly experienced Julie Legrand is all class as Madame Morrible. Adam Pettigrew also provides entertaining support as Boq.

With tickets to this and the new Wizard of Oz at the same price, Wicked is a clear winner by a yellow brick mile.

Legally Blonde
Savoy Theatre
2.30 Thursday 26 January 2012

This fabulous show is a special favourite of Man in Chair’s so it is sad to report that this production has seen better days.

Proceedings were not helped by the presence of no less than four understudies. Maybe they were all off auditioning given that the closing notice had gone up only the day before.

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Carley Stenson is a suitably perky, gorgeous, not too shrill Elle Woods, garnering the audience’s affection as the lovable blonde bombshell who takes the world in her well coiffured stride. Ben Freeman is a very handsome Warner. Props to Robbie Towns for being an excellent stand in for the adorkable Emmett.

The term triple threat is bandied about for ensemble members all too often but in this show it is totally apt and fortunately this ensemble is still full of legitimate triple threats. The ensemble have loads of singing to do, a range of athletic dance styles to master and a higher than usual number of bit parts to play. Special mention to Australian Nathan Pinnell, who stood out amongst these talented troopers, particularly for his spot on performance as Carlos (saying any more about the character would be considered a spoiler).

Despite being soon to close it must be noted that the West End season will have lasted many months more than the Broadway production. The Australian premiere is keenly anticipated (and would be even more so if Christie Whelan were to be our Elle) (David Harris will be very welcome as Emmett should that rumor prove to be true)

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2 replies »

  1. Hey Simon, just fyi, that top picture under your Legally Blonde review isn’t Carly Stenson.
    As a Hollyoaks fan and fan of her performance here I couldn’t miss her. Glad you liked her too. 🙂

    • Thanks eagle-eyed Adam!
      I have replaced the pic with a new one – hope I have the right Elle this time.
      Maybe Hollyoaks will have her back now that Blonde is closing..

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